A United Methodist Screening of Milk
Our church, Lockerbie Central United Methodist, hosted a screening of Milk last night. The film follows Harvey Milk as he goes from closested gay New York City insurance salesman to the first openly gay elected offical in California history.
Not just a politician, Milk represents a movement that even goes beyond the struggle for gay rights. There was weeping and applause at the end of the film.
San Francisco Politics as metaphor for the United Methodist Church
Milk was elected to the Board of City Superviors (San Francisco’s city council), but served only eleven months before he was assasinated. He, along San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, was murdered by deranged city supervisor Dan White.
Josh Brolin brilliantly portrays Dan White in the film, and, according to a 1978 New York Times article, Dan White represented:
“a largely white, middle-class section that is hostile to the growing homosexual community of San Francisco. […] As a supervisor, Mr. White made it clear that he saw himself as the board’s defender of the home, the family and religious life against homosexuals, pot smokers and cynics.”
Meanwhile, Milk and Moscone represented grassroots, multi-issue progressive politcs. These two men, along with the fragile governing coalition on the San Francisco’s board of supervisors, represented a multi-cultural, social justice oriented political movement. It wasn’t perfect but Moscone, and then Milk, were known as long time defenders of the poor, minorities, and small bussinesses.
With the deaths of Milk, Moscone, and eventually White, a new type of politics took root in San Fransisco. This is symbolized by the rise of Diane Feinstein, who replaced Moscone as Mayor. A journalist writes that “… Feinstein did just about anything the developers wanted, driving out small business, driving up rents, gentrifying neighborhoods, and walloping the city budget.“
Looking at the Church after watching Milk
The struggle for the future of the United Methodist church (and most churches) can be summed up through the factions vying for power in Milk. We got the bigots, we got the emergent/missional movments, and we got the establishment rich folks.
The Church of Bigotry (ie. Confessing Movement)
The legacy of the politics represented by Dan White–the assassin of Milk and Moscone–can be seen in the Confessing Movement and those who want to see the church preserved in all of its 1950’s glory. Let’s keep the gays closeted, those who look and think differently than us at arm’s length, ignore the changing world outside our windows, and hold fast to an idealized version of the glory days. And, lets shoot down and destroy that which is threatening!
The Church of Liberation and Coalition Building (ie. Reconciling Movement, General Board of Church and Society, emergent/missional church)
The life and politics that Harvey Milk represented can also be seen in the United Methodist Church.
There is a growing grassroots movement that is looking to be part of and rebuild the Methodist movement by bringing different groups of people to the table to create a better world. Of course, this can get messy, but this faction believes that “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” involves bringing people together and building coalitions.
The Rich Folk’s Church
While the United Methodist church has seen its membership shrink, there are a good number of thriving upper middle class churches. These are normally the churches where the bishops worship and seem to set the tone for the North American church.
Like Diane Feinstein, they are “liberal,” but represent a monied and well-off constituency. Yeah, they will pay lip service to the poor and the disenfranchised but when push comes to shove, they seemingly always side with the establishment. Just as San Francisco has been turned into a playground for rich and well educated liberals, these churches might be doing the same to the United Methodist Church.